Who took the Fun. out of Medicine?!

Alex funny doctor adj

If you go to any health care conference all around you, you will see a bunch of very serious professionals. Dedicated to their cause, they are taking it very seriously. It is rare to see anyone laughing, and conversations about health care and research matters are taken very seriously. People get upset about things, and they express their hurts, and sometimes, people storm out of meetings. It can be intense!

It is the same on hospital wards and in consulting rooms. Doctors as a rule are a very serious group of people. We are trained to be that way. You need to look serious to be taken seriously, or so we learn.

But what kind of a way is this to live life?

In all seriousness (yes, yes, pun intended ;)) why can we not have fun at work?

Why can we not have fun and enjoy ourselves when we discuss things?

Does it all have to be SO serious and intense?

Do we have to look serious and intense to show that we are paying serious attention to things? To show that we care?!

I wonder,

What might happen if we kept things light?

What might happen if we saw the lighter side of things when things didn’t seem quite right to us in a discussion about a certain matter?

And what if we kept things light when somebody dared to disagree with our point of view, in public of all things! As everyone knows in academia, differing opinions can be the start of a very intense exchange…

Yet, when we are born and we are small, we know how to enjoy life. We know how to laugh, and how to enjoy ourselves. It’s usually not a disaster if we fall over and make our bottom a little bit wet……. Small children naturally laugh with each other, unless they have been traumatised…

Is this perhaps what happens to us in the medical profession?

I wonder, do we perhaps become traumatised through the way that we are educated and trained, and through our professional experiences and use being ‘serious’ as a coping mechanism?

Is this perhaps one of our modes of defence and protection from trauma, our serious faces projecting out against the traumas of the world, both actual and perceived?

And what do we think our professional seriousness will prevent… Continue reading

What is our True Power as Physicians?

super flying dog

In Medicine we spend a lot of time learning about facts figures and statistics. We learn about guidelines, the Krebs cycle, the different types of renal tubular acidosis and the right drugs to prescribe under the right circumstances. We learn about the correct procedures and how to do good operations.

All of these things are vital and important in medicine, as if we do not get this stuff right, things go wrong for people.

But, are these things where our true power lies as physicians?

Much of what we learn is about function. It is about getting protocols right and following procedures. But these are all impersonal things.

What about the personal? Is that important?

After all, Medicine is fundamentally about people. It has care for people at its heart.

And as people, what is it that we seek when we are ill?

We naturally seek a true care. And not only care, we actually want to feel loved. Continue reading

Do we really need our doctors to be ‘resilient’?

haddock fight tough

When we think of the word ‘resilience’ it conjures up certain meanings. ie that no matter what is thrown at you, you can ‘handle it’. That you are tough enough to take it all on, and carry on.

Increasingly there are moves to train our doctors to be more ‘resilient’ to life, but is this really what is needed?

Burnout rates in the profession are utterly staggering. Over half of the medical profession. That is correct, over half of the medical profession are burnt out. 25% of the profession have thought of killing themselves at any one point in life. That’s right. A quarter of health care professionals, those trained to be our experts in health care have found life so miserable that their only way out has been to contemplate suicide.

Our suicide rates are far higher than any other section of society, the irony not being lost here as we are health care professionals.

The levels of bullying and harassment in our profession are rife, and increasingly doctors are beginning to speak up about the stresses and strains that they are under, and in the UK in particular, they are walking off the job to move to other countries where they feel more valued.

It is clear that as a profession our health and well-being is suffering. But is aiming for increased ‘resilience’ really the answer?

The sort of people who do medical school are by nature pretty ‘resilient’. They push themselves, deny themselves all sorts of things, in order to not only get the marks required for medical school but increasingly the vast array of extra-curricular activities that are required to demonstrate and prove that one is a suitably exceptional candidate.

Circumstances in medicine are certainly arduous.…..long hours of work, study for years on end, seeing people at their worst, a well established culture of bullying and harassment….Nobody ‘survives’ unless they have a degree of ‘resilience’ to human suffering, both their own, and others 😉

As doctors, we care deeply about people and innately and through our programming in medical school we want to take away human suffering. We see it as being a bad thing. Yet we quickly realise that the time that we have and the tools that we have in our medical armamentarium are not sufficient, and are woefully inadequate in comparison to the immensity of the human suffering that we are confronted with.

There is much to process in day to day life, in conjunction with the multitude of pressures, to do with time management, clinic hours, paperwork, and on top of that our life and family demands.

Many of us burnout and there are many things that people are pointing the finger to that are causing burnout.

Some people say its long hours, but its clearly not that, as many people work long hours with no burnout. There are clearly other factors at play and we are certainly affected by and react to the toxicity of the environments that we find ourselves in.

But is ‘resilience’ really what we need and what we truly want our doctor to be? Continue reading

Checking in – how well do you feel?

Ask a doctor adj

Most of us on a day to day basis just get through the day with The Big C –  That’s right: c.o.f.f.e.e.!!. The line up at the hospital café first thing in the morning before ward rounds is worse than peak hour traffic. There are mobile latte vans that visit our surgeries in private practice. We need our coffee. When we have breaks in the day, we have more coffee, and yes, we like the taste, and the smell, because its amazing!!! But, how well do we feel without our coffee? And that’s a telling point…..

If we are needing sugar and caffeine to get through the day, then there is something not quite right. Apart from its taste, it is a stimulant, it heightens the nervous system, and then it drops us again.

Animals don’t need stimulant drugs to make it through their days. Dogs do great without it. They’re pretty happy too. So, as an interesting note, why do we?!

Can we really say that we are living well and truly vital if we are needing stimulants to get through the day?!

The history of doctors and their association with stimulants is well known. Not, that it is something to aspire to, just something to be aware of 🙂 I once read that one of the founders of a famous US teaching hospital was addicted to cocaine having to give himself a dose each day just to function….I do not know for sure if that story is true, but as we know in medicine our rates of addiction are high, and they are not even measuring our addiction to caffeine… 🙂

Most of us are so used to feeling tired that we think it is normal. But, whilst it might be the norm in our profession, its actually is not natural to feel so tired and exhausted that you can’t get through a day without a stimulant! That is a sure sign that we are not as well as we could be. We’ve just become used to this way of living that it is ordinary for us, and its become a collective team activity at morning tea time, or post ward round….

As health care experts, why do we accept being so tired as our normal? Why are we tired only a few short hours after waking up when sleep is supposed to regenerate us and give us energy?

Can we say it is something of being truly well to need a drug like caffeine (as tasty as it is!) to keep us going?

Lets face it, as doctors, we are so used to dealing with the most horrendous diseases, that we consider that if we don’t have a disease that we must be well!

But being chronically tired, is not part of a state of well-being.

Being well is more than the absence of diagnosed disease.

To me, a state of well-being is feeling fully energized, joyful, vitalized on waking and during the day, having a sustained zest for life. It is a wonderful feeling on the inside, not just the absence of cancer.

Most of us feel grateful that we don’t have a horrible disease. But what if there was more to well-being than just not having disease! Continue reading

Hey doctors – can we care for ourselves?

doctor stethoscope adj

As doctors we spend all of our time learning to care for others.

Our entire education is spent learning all of the latest facts and figures and protocols so that we can provide the best possible health care for others. But in all of that, do we take the time to truly and deeply take care of ourselves? And if not, why not?!

Burnout rates in medicine are 40-55%. This is not just something to be a teeny little bit concerned about in the medical profession. This is a global pandemic! It is affecting literally more than half of the medical profession, globally.

It would seem in fact, that as doctors, everywhere, that we are not very good at taking care of ourselves.

In fact, our culture promotes the opposite.

what the adj

Our culture is about celebrating how tired we are, celebrating how much we can push ourselves beyond our limits. We celebrate and encourage black and dark humour which distances us from people. We celebrate sleep deprivation and long and hard work hours.  We decry sensitivity and feelings and distance ourselves from those inconvenient human sorts of things as much as possible and if we feel them we Never. Ever. Let on. that we are affected by things. Continue reading

Do we take the time to treat our patients?

doctor-patient adj

At a medical conference, for doctors, at the end of last year, we were informed in one talk that:

  1. Doctors don’t like treating patients
  2. They don’t have time for it
  3. They don’t do it well, and not only that
  4. They are not interested in doing it well

Needless to say as a person who loves medicine and people I was somewhat stunned (and I must confess, moderately incensed!) to be told from the pulpit so to speak, how I do and feel about my job from someone who has never met me or spent time in my clinic. And I am not alone in this response and feeling given the conversations I had with others who were in the same room as me when this invective was unleashed.

I heartily disagree with the statements that were presented to us. I personally feel they are coming from a burnt out jaded perspective, from someone who has given up on medicine and people in medicine. But this is not the first time I have been apprised of such attitudes in medicine. I have read papers that have said that doctors ought to have their attention focused on diagnosis only, rather than the day to day treatment of patients. And I have had conversations with peers who also feel that is where we need to have our attentions focused. Some people are proposing that doctors ought to ‘just diagnose’ and ‘other people’ ought to do the treating, following protocols, such as nurses.

It concerns me deeply to hear such perspectives gaining momentum and I am concerned for the future of health care and medicine.

Medicine is about people.

People are the heart of medicine. Continue reading

Is the Medical Profession in Crisis?

resuscitation adj

Across the globe, increasingly evidence is coming to light that people in our profession are suffering.

Its considered that we have about twice the rate of suicide as the general public. With reported rates being anywhere between 1.1-5.7 times higher than the general public6. It is known that our suicide rate is higher than any other professional group.

We have a higher rate of suicidal ideation than the general public, with 25% of doctors at any time having thought about killing themselves3. 10% in the last 12 months3.

We have a higher rate of both high psychological distress and higher rates of anxiety than the general public3.

We have far higher rates of burnout than anyone else in society. In fact, between 40-55% of the profession are burnt out with rates increasing over the last decade9. Burnout is not a benign condition. It is associated with exhaustion, depersonalisation and a feeling that the work is not worthwhile, and perceived errors. It is associated with higher rates of cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety, diabetes, suicidal ideation and musculoskeletal complaints1. Furthermore, it is associated with higher rates of medical errors and lower rates of patient satisfaction2,7. Continue reading

Why don’t we speak openly about doctor suicides?

depressed young doctor adj

Just over a week ago, I read an obituary in a medical publication about a young talented and clearly lovely junior doctor (not pictured above). Her life and achievements were celebrated, but naught to mention was made of the cause of her untimely death. Some colleagues and I surmised it was suicide, but then we wondered why it was it was not mentioned in the obituary?  At the time it felt as though there was an embargo on talking about doctor suicide, and we wondered why. There is a shame about discussing it in public, and if this is the case then how can we possibly learn about the things that lead to suicide in our colleagues? We discuss medical cases openly so that we might learn, but why not of our colleagues who reach a point of no return? Subsequently it has been confirmed in the media that the death was indeed a suicide, but it was not mentioned in the medical publication.

It is well known that doctors do have a higher rate of suicide than the general public. These results have been reported as being up to 5.7 times higher than the general public, with female doctors being at the greatest risk, with rates between 2.275.7 times higher than the general public. 

These results are quite staggering, but to speak truthfully, the fact that we have suicide at all in the profession is indicative of a deep dis-ease in our profession.

It concerns me to question:

How is it that can we have people who are caring and sensitive by nature, who choose to do medicine to care for people, ending up so despairing of life and caring so little for themselves that they take their own life?

And worse, that their colleagues and medical friends do not notice their decline to that point and are often completely surprised to hear of the death of a colleague in such a fashion.

How can this possibly occur in a system about health ‘care’?

These suicide statistics have been known for some time yet until now, no true action has been undertaken.

The NSW Health Minister has now instructed his staff that they have 1 month to find a solution to the doctor suicide crisis. It is great to see urgency brought to this matter, but is 1 month really enough and will it really get to the root of the cause? Continue reading

What does it mean to ‘take care’ of yourself?

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Care is a vital part in health ‘care’. But what does this even mean?

Does it mean that we feel sorry for other people and are motivated to do good things for them from that sadness and sorrow?

Does it mean that unless we feel emotions for their experiences that we do not care?

Does it mean showing emotions and reactions to the experience of another?

Does it mean that we are not caring if we don’t react or display any emotions to what a person is experiencing?

Or is there something more to care?

We know that people who indulge in behaviours like smoking, drinking alcohol, eating too much and taking recreational drugs, going out late and not sleeping enough and not eating nutritious food are not ‘taking care’ of themselves. Repeated behaviours like this lead to an accumulated toll on the body.

But I question where do these behaviours come from? We would call these ultimately behaviours of self abuse, but what motivates a person to make these choices? In the case of excessive eating, perhaps a person may feel that they are taking care of themselves, using food as a place of care. When they feel down or sad, using food to make themselves feel better, to feel comforted. People who go and smoke may also feel as though they are taking care of themselves in some way, taking the time to smoke to help them to cope with life. Feeling comforted by the burning of the smoke filling their lungs.

But is comfort really the same as care? Now there’s food for thought!

What if the things that we have been thinking of as care, are actually forms of comfort?

And what if comfort is more about numbing what the body is feeling rather than deeply taking care of the body, providing the body with what it truly needs to heal?

What if instead, care is about providing the body what it truly needs to heal, to feel healthy and truly well and vital? Rather than give us something that makes us temporarily feel ‘better’? Continue reading

Work-Life Balance for the busy doctor – my top five tips

theatre-doctorsAs doctors and as medical students we hear a lot about this thing called ‘work life balance’. We know that we need it, we are told that we need it but we are not really told what it is, why we need it and how to get it.

By the very notion that it is called ‘work life balance’ we learn that ‘work’ is a harmful thing to be minimised and that ‘life’ is something completely different, something that we are missing out on when we are ‘working’. This actually only compounds the stress that we are feeling when ‘work’ is ‘taking up’ our time!

It’s definitely unhealthy for us to be working all the time, to the extent that we neglect other areas of our health, physical well-being, neglecting exercise, neglecting good nutrition, neglecting our relationships, our emotional health and well-being and neglecting the need that we have for sleep or rest, or even perhaps other aspects of expression that we feel are vital for our health and well-being.

But work itself is not an issue. HOW we work can be an issue.

We are told that work life balance is taking days off, taking holidays, making sure that we have hobbies etc and we might think that it is having time to go out to restaurants for dinner. These things are fantastic and fun, but on reflection, are these things truly what create consistent day to day great health and well-being for us?

We know and we are told that we need ‘work life balance’ to stop us from burning out or from getting sick. It is important for Continue reading